Presidential Approval Ratings

As President Obama continues to enjoy a small popularity boost two weeks after the bin Laden killing, The Daily Beast calculates which of his predecessors had the most meaningful bounces.

AP Photo

AP Photo

1, George W. Bush

Highest approval rating: 90% (9/21/2001)
Corresponding event: September 11

Conflict was good for George W.’s popularity—his approval ratings spiked following the 9/11 attacks, the start of the Iraq War and Saddam Hussein’s capture. The largest surge came directly after the twin towers fell thanks to an overflow of patriotism, but dipped after concerns over the economy, tax cuts and judicial nominations captured national attention.

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2, Harry Truman

Highest approval rating: 69% (1/7/1949)
Corresponding event: Announces Fair Deal program

After highs during his initial days in office that were characterized by wartime wins, Truman’s popularity peaked early in 1949 following his State of the Union address that introduced his Fair Deal plan to ensure health insurance and equal rights to all Americans, as well as an increase in the minimum wage.

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3, George H.W. Bush

Highest approval rating: 89% (2/28/1991)
Corresponding event: Operation Desert Storm ends

The elder George Bush’s approval rating climbed nearly 20 points during the culmination of the conflict, but the boost was short-lived. Following a perceived inability to generate consensus among the parties, as well as raising taxes and rising unemployment, the spike dropped precipitously.

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4, Jimmy Carter

Highest approval rating: 58% (1/25/1980)
Corresponding event: Iran hostage crisis begins

His term started with high approval ratings, but averaged around just 45 percent during his time in office. He received a relative spike after the Iran hostage ordeal began, but the event, which dragged on for 444 days, including a failed rescue attempt, painted Carter as a hesitant leader.

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5, Bill Clinton

Highest approval rating: 73% (12/19/1998)
Corresponding event: Impeachment by House of Representatives following Lewinsky affair

Not only did Clinton’s approval rating peak following his impeachment, but the number of Americans who disapproved of the Republican Party climbed 10 points. A third of the country approved of the House’s decision to impeach Clinton, about the same fraction that had a favorable view of the GOP overall.

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6, Gerald Ford

Highest approval rating: 52% (6/27/1975)
Corresponding event: Establishes committee for 1976 presidential election

Largely disliked for his pardon of Nixon early in his oval office tenure, he received only minor bumps in his approval ratings before the 1974 midterm elections and once he announced he would run for president—which coincided with the fall of Saigon and the rescue of a U.S. merchant ship that was seized in Cambodia.

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7, John F. Kennedy

Highest approval rating: 83% (4/28/1961)
Corresponding event: Orders Bay of Pigs invasion

Though the attack proved to be disastrous, shortly after Kennedy accepted responsibility for the botched overthrow of Castro, his approval rating spiked. His popularity was consistently high, except for a dip surrounding Civil Rights legislation and the Birmingham bombing.

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8, Ronald Reagan

Highest approval rating: 68% (5/8/1981)
Corresponding event: Assassination attempt

Reagan’s “grace under fire” caused the public to generate new-found support for him, as well as his economic policies. The elevated approval rating is also credited with helping him to snag a broad-based re-election.

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9, Lyndon B. Johnson

Highest approval rating: 79% (2/28/1964)
Corresponding event: Tax cut is enacted and Civil Rights Act passes House of Representatives

Johnson was riding a wave of popularity following Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. The wave peaked in the spring of 1964 after a tax cut (originally proposed by Kennedy) was enacted and Johnson quickly shepherded the Civil Rights Act from the House to the Senate.

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10, Dwight D. Eisenhower

Highest approval rating: 79% (12/14/1956)
Corresponding event: Suez Canal crisis begins

With one of the highest overall average approval ratings of 65 percent, Eisenhower earned a bump from his public denunciation of allies in the invasion of Eqypt. His involvement in the ordeal was later viewed as a huge mistake, even by the former president himself.

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11, Richard Nixon

Highest approval rating: 67% (1/26/1973)
Corresponding event: Declares ceasefire in Vietnam

Despite notorious anti-war protests, support for Nixon’s policies rose during his presidency. The removal of military operations in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos in 1973 caused an ephemeral spike in approval ratings, which faded with rising inflation, the oil crisis, and the Watergate scandal.